Love and Other Words

Page 17

Elliot lifted the blanket and scooted next to me, wrapping his arm around my shoulders. “I’m not going to be any help, but I think I’m supposed to be happy for you.”

“You’re being very mature and un-boy-like about this. I expected less compassion and more bumbling.” I grew light-headed from the warmth of his body and the feeling of his arm around me.

He exhaled a laugh into my hair. “I have a baby sister on the way, and a mom who insists it’s my job to show her the ropes, remember? So I need you to explain everything.”

I curled into his side, closing my eyes against the sting of tears I felt there.

“Is there anything I can do?” he asked quietly.

A weight settled heavily in my chest. “Not unless you can bring my mom back.”

Silence pulsed around us and I heard him inhaling in preparation a few times before speaking. Finally, he settled on a simple “I wish I could.”

I nodded against him, breathing in the sharp smell of his deodorant, the lingering smell of his boy-sweat, the wet-cotton smell of his T-shirt from the fifteen-foot run through the summer rain from his porch to mine. So weird that just hearing him say that made me feel a million times better.

“Do you want to talk about it?” he whispered.


His hand made the gentle path up and down my arm. I knew, without having to look too far and wide, that there were no other boys like Elliot, anywhere.

“I’m sorry you’re grumpy.”

“Me too.”

“Do you want me to get a warm water bottle? I do that for my mom.”

I shook my head. I wanted Mom to be here, reading her letter to me.

He cleared his throat, asking quietly, “Because it would make it feel like I’m your boyfriend?”

I swallowed, and the mood shifted in an instant. Boyfriend didn’t seem to cover it. Elliot was kind of my Everyfriend. “I guess?”

He sat up, still all skinny arms and long twisty legs, but he was becoming something new, something more… man than boy. At nearly fifteen, he had an Adam’s apple and faint stubble on his chin, and his pants were too short. His voice had deepened. “I guess we’re too young for that.”

I nodded and tried to swallow, but my mouth had gone dry. “Yeah.”


friday, october 6


arly-morning light filters in through the gauzy curtains, turning everything faintly blue. Outside on Elsie Street, garbage trucks rumble down the asphalt. The squealing of metal on metal, the crash of the bins against the truck, and the sound of garbage cascading into the compactor carries up from outside. Despite the way the world continues to move forward on the other side of the window, I’m not sure I’m ready to start the day.

My ears still ring with snippets of conversation from dinner last night. I want to hold on to them for just a little longer, to relish the joy of having my best friend back in my life before all the complications that come along with it make their way to the surface.

Sean turns to me, pulling me right up against him, pressing his face to my neck.

“Morning,” he growls, hands already busy, mouth on my throat, my jaw. He works my pajama shorts down my hips, rolling over onto me. “Did you actually get a full night’s sleep?”

“Miracle of miracles: I did.” I run both hands into his hair, digging in the thick tangle of salt-and-pepper. Hunger flushes through me; we haven’t had sex in over a week.

We’re still so new, I’m not sure we’ve ever gone that long before.

When he reaches my mouth, I kiss him once before hesitation spikes in me, and I pull back a little. “Wait.”

“Oh. Period?” he asks, brows lifted.

“What?” I say, and then shake my head. “No, I just wanted to tell you about last night.”

“About last night?” he repeats, confused.

“About my dinner with Elliot.”

Sean’s dark brows pull down now. “It could wait until after…?” He presses into me, meaningfully.

“Oh.” I guess it could. But the reality is that it probably shouldn’t.

Elliot and I didn’t even touch again after I hugged him hello. It’s not like anything happened. But it feels like I’m lying by not telling Sean who Elliot is. Or, rather, who he was.

“It’s nothing bad,” I say, but Sean rolls off me anyway. “I just… one of the challenges you and I face is that we have these enormous histories that we couldn’t possibly have laid out in the amount of time we’ve been together.”

He acknowledges this with a little nod.

“I told you I was having dinner with an old friend last night, and that’s true.”


“But he was really like my old… everything.”

I meet Sean’s eyes and melt a little. They’re the first thing I noticed about him because they’re so deep, and soulful, and glimmering. His eyes are amazing: brown, thickly lashed, and the way they lift gently at the outer edges easily makes them the best flirty eyes I’ve ever known. Right now, though, they’re more guarded than playful.

I shrug, amending, “He was my first everything.”

“Your first…”

“My first true friend, my first love, my first…”

“Sex,” he finishes for me.

“It’s complicated.”

“How complicated?” he asks, gently. “Everyone has exes. Did he… hurt you?”

Quickly, I shake my head. “See, after Mom died, Dad was my whole world, but he still didn’t know how to nurture the same way Mom had. And then I met Elliot and it was like…” I search for the right words. “I had someone my age who really understood me and saw me for exactly who I was. He was like a best girlfriend and a first boyfriend all rolled into one.”

Sean’s expression softens. “I’m glad, babe.”

“We had a fight one night, and…” I realize now that I’m going to shut this down prematurely. I’m not sure I can finish the story. “I needed some time to think, and ‘some time’ turned into eleven years.”

Sean’s eyes widen a little. “Oh?”

“We ran into each other a few days ago.”

“I see. And it’s the first time you’ve spoken since.”

I swallow thickly. “Right.”

“So there’s some baggage to unpack,” he says, smiling a little.

I nod, repeating, “Right.”

“And has this relationship been hanging over you all this time?”

I don’t want to lie to him. “Yes.”

Other than the deaths of my parents, nothing looms larger in my life than Elliot.

“Do you still love him?”

I blink away. “I don’t know.”

Sean uses a gentle finger to turn my face to his. “I don’t mind if you love him, Mace. Even if you think you might always love him. But if it makes you wonder what you’re doing here, with me, then we need to talk about it.”

“It doesn’t, really. It’s just been emotional to see him.”

“I get that,” he says quietly. “It brings up old stuff. I’m sure if I saw Ashley again, I’d struggle with all of that. Anger, and hurt, and yeah – the love that I still have for her. I never got to fall out of love. I just had to move on when she walked out.”

It’s a perfect description. I never got to fall out of love. I just had to move on.

He kisses me, once. “We’re not eighteen, babe. We’re not coming into this without a few chinks in our armor. I don’t expect you to have room in your heart for me only.”

I’m so grateful to him right now I nearly want to cry.

“Well, work on the friendship. Do what you need to do,” he says, his weight returning above me, his body pushing against mine, hard and ready. “But right now, come back to me.”

I wrap my arms around him, and press my face to his neck, but as he moves over me, and then into me, I have a brief flash of bare honesty. It’s good – the sex has always been good – but it isn’t right.

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